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A Periclean or Ouroboros future for Ukraine?

September 16, 2014

Only a few days ago this entry, following the delayed DCFTA between the EU and Ukraine, stated; “They went for the (perhaps Utopian) ideals of forever implanting and consolidating a full and robust democratic State regardless of the feckless Ukrainian political class. A Periclean democratic moment was upon them.”

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A Periclean moment indeed.  The birth of something approaching genuine democracy with lasting, robust democratic pillars, or not – a moment that has yet to lead to its intended results.  In fact that Periclean moment, as runners and riders for the 26th October RADA elections emerge, may well become an Ouroboros moment instead, with the movement that ousted former President Yanukovych and his thoroughly corrupt regime, now offering up the real possibility of eating itself.

Are the children of the revolution about to commit suicide on the alter of populist politics under the banners of historically populist and ne’er-do-well leaders – or are they about to make the changes they expect to make from within the political beast, despite those party leaders under whose banners they will be included?  Will they succumb to the way its always been?   Will they give up in frustration when ideology struggles to shift entrenched institutions of State?

Initial party proportional representation lists would indicate that populism and not policy is remains stubbornly the driver for far too many political parties – and in particular their leaders.  They don’t come much more populist than this from Batkivshchyna – desperately populist indeed.

Rather than policy manifestos highlighting the extremely difficult choices to be made with blunt honesty for the Ukrainian voting constituency, not only regarding the situation the nation is in, but that it is also facing, once again, many old political populists, celebrities and now public figures born of  EuroMaidan only a few months ago, are likely to top the lists.  A number of decent journalists also amongst the number who must now, naturally, relinquish journalism when swapping it for politics.

On the whole, form (and popularity) clearly the preference over substance (and ability) – again.  Not only has Ukraine been here before – it has never left this retarded and debilitating cycle.

Those capable of navigating the treacherous and difficult paths that need be followed, seem unlikely to feature heavily anywhere near the top of such party lists, if they feature at all.  With or without a map or policy manifesto currently showing their proposed way out of the present situation from most political parties, it is the professional people, the lawyers and the economists, the professors and the doctors that are urgently required in Ukrainian policy making and politics.  Those who can not only understand any map their are given, but draw one if necessary.

The wooing of leading civil society personalities post-Maidan to run for party X or Y is a natural phenomenon.  Almost every democracy recruits from its leading lights amongst the domestic civil society pool to some extent.  It is the democratic way of things – but to take so many at once from a recently coalesced sphere of public life is not necessarily the best thing for the nation at this moment in time.  In doing so it leaves the very real possibility that Ukrainian civil society will once again return to a sphere that turns against itself.   Leadership and personalities matter as much in civil society as anywhere else, despite its necessary societal grass roots.  If the cause and a united front (where applicable) is to remain united and not fragment or degenerate into persistent infighting once again, a great deal of caution must be taken when politically recruiting from within.

Alternatively, to concentrate mostly on those civil society and public figures that have a recognition factor only from various acts at EuroMaidan, rather than a previously hard earned civil society ability, brings neither experience nor ability to parliament.  It will bring a great deal of idealism by way of liberal and perhaps even constructionist thinking, but it need be tempered by realism.  Politics is the art of making maximum within the limits of what is possible.  Idealism is far less constrained.

Six months/one year from now, when many of the idealists may resign from political parties as reality sets in, will it not be the political party and its populist leaders that suffer the most in the public eye, instantly being branded as empty democratic and change enabling vassals – again?  Several starlets of EuroMaidan plucked from the masses and included in the interim government have already resigned due to frustration – as well being responsible for crafting some of the most atrocious attempts at law that have fortunately never been passed in RADA history.  Should such resignations repeat in notable numbers through frustration again, and real democratic and institutional change fail to appear, who would categorically rule out yet another Maidan and political crisis?  As has already been pointed out within Ukrainian social media, there are more lampposts in Kyiv than there are RADA MPs to swing from them.

How many volunteer battalion commanders will enter the political fray?  Under whose banner?  How many celebrities verses civil society leaders, verses EuroMaidan public figures, verses populist politicians verses volunteer battalion commanders should be on any particular party list – before those who should be there on merit and ability actually appear?

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Is the Periclean moment about to be spurned or wasted?   Are we about to enter an  Ouroboros moment instead?  A RADA full populist leaders, patriotically minded members, but nonetheless mostly incompetent policy-minded people?

Where does it leave Ukraine, if not working on at least a 3-speed gyroscopic axis spinning manically upon what may be a very unstable pivot point?  The first speed being long term survival by visibly tempering – or appearing to visibly temper – its speed westward whilst not disowning The Donbas entirely, but not allowing it to become a dead weight either.  What occurs less visibly or quietly may be a quite a different matter entirely.  The second, a far faster speed (and from tomorrow ratified Association Agreement binding) relates to the internal democracy reforming process, the results of which the Ukrainian public expect to see (perhaps far too ambitiously) almost immediately. Third, a fairly rapid deleveraging of such reliance on Russia as a trade parter – or at least the fairly rapid planning of such deleveraging.  There is much to unwind (or prepare to unwind) as painlessly as possible before the delayed implementation of the DCFTA on 1 January 2016, if it is to be ratified.  A much more manageable percentage of trade with Russia vis a vis the rest of the world being the obvious way to mitigate threats to simply crush the Ukrainian economy via bureaucratic nonsense from The Kremlin – even if this is accomplished one seemingly unimpressive percentage point at a time over the next 15 months.

It has to be said that all these things require seasoned experts and professionals to prevent the various gyroscopic rotations from spinning out of control.  Are such, people to be found within the celebrity, EuroMaidan starlets and populist political leaders – and if not, will a new RADA listen to those seasoned experts and professionals and be able to control their populist leaders?

It is desperately disappointing to see the top places of party lists filling with the wrong people again – and yet it is encouraging to see others on parties lists that may very well turn out to be exactly what the Ukrainian political system needs.  That encouragement comes with a sizeable caveat, as it comes at the expense of severely hollowing out civil society (and possibly its current cohesion) as well as media institutions – both instrumental in either influencing or holding the political class accountable.

That said, with sufficient will and determination much can be accomplished despite Kremlin interference, with an effective division of labour working honestly to good policy.  Perhaps Ukraine need only concern itself with voting in those with the will and determination –  whilst borrowing the good policies others have previously employed from within other nations.

Over the next 5 years, both presidential and RADA terms are quite literally going to be make or break for a genuinely independent Ukraine.  A Periclean foundational period, or an Ouroboros disaster awaits.

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